Thursday, May 26, 2005

Day 10: Venice

We are up early again, in spite of a second late night. I again sit out on the balcony and work on the computer, while watching the campo wake up. After breakfast, we set out for a walk around the quiet streets and canals of the Cannaregio neighborhood. This is where Tintoretto lived and worked and the imposing14th century Church of Madonna dell'Orto--his parish church--has a number of his paintings as well as his body--he and other members of his family are buried there. There are two large paintings of his in the front--The Israelites at Mount Sinai and a very graphic Last Judgement- among other smaller works....they are at the same time very intense and very realistic. The contrast with the cooler, serene Renaissance painting of St. John the Baptist and Saints by Cima da Conegliano is striking.

We are meeting our friends at the train station vaparetto stop for our excursion to Torcello, the now almost deserted island in the lagoon where the first Venetian settlement was established in the 6th and 7th centuries. In order to get to Torcello, we take a direct vaparetto to Murano, change for the boat to Burano and then the short hop to Torcello. Even with good connections, it takes about 45 minutes on crowded boats. We get to Torcello just after noon and walk the 15 minutes to the church and basilica at the other side of the island. There is not much left on the island, which at its height had a population of 20.000. The location became malarial and the settlement was moved to its present site in the 13th century. Now only about 20 people live on Torcello....but there are several restaurants to take care of visitors.

The 11th century church of Santa Fosca is very simple and plain and looks very Byzantine...there is very little decoration but the austere walls in the Greek cross building give the church a restful, serene feel. The large basilica that adjoins the church--Santa Maria Assunta--is very different. Dating back to the 7th century (the oldest building in the lagoon), there is a beautiful mosaic floor and amazing mosaics on the walls and in the front of the church. The apse has a simple portrait of a Madonna and Child set on a gold background and the back wall has a outsized Last Judgement with graphic scenes of what happens to the was done about the same time that Dante was writing his Inferno and describing some of the same scenes. Seeing these amazing mosaics in this remote church on this almost deserted island makes our visit to Torcello very special. We forgo the museum and the climb to the top of the campanile in favor of lunch.

There is a very expensive restaurant on the island--the Locanda Cipriani--but we eat at Al Ponte del Diavolo (At the Devil's Bridge) which turns out to be terrific. The outdoor space is set out in a lush garden in the back with lots of tables nicely set and filled with many diners. There is only one waiter working the large crowd but he does a good job and the setting encourages a great deal of patience from the diners. The food was very good, but we probably give it higher marks because of the setting and enjoyment of having lunch with our old friends Some of the better dishes were prosciutto and melon, the grilled fish, and the fritto misto and we drank a lot of the light, crisp, refreshing Veneto white wine. It was one of those long, lazy al fresco Italian lunches that you read about and always hope to experience.

We make good connections on the way back but I am surprised that the boat ends its run at the Fondamente Nove on the north side of Venice. Since our friends are staying near the Rialto, I suggest it would be more convenient for them to walk there rather than take the long route by vaparetto. We get on the next boat that goes down the Cannareggio canal and stops close to our hotel. We are back in the Ghetto about 5:00 pm and Diana reads while I try to do some work. But the two late nights and early mornings, as well as the heat, the boat trips and the great lunch with wine, catch up with me and I fall asleep. The next thing I know it is almost 10......we decide to go down to the restaurant under our balcony but the kitchen is closed, so we go to the next nearest restaurant, Al Faro, just around the corner. We both order pizza....and to my surprise--since I am not a big fan of the Italian style of pizza, my pizza with cheese, sausage and arugula is excellent--great crust and very tasty. Diana's pizza marinara is less successful but we enjoy the restaurant--the staff is very friendly and one of the waiters puts on juggling exhibition to the delight of his colleagues and the customers.

After the short walk back to the hotel, we are able to fall asleep without much difficulty. Tomorrow, we plan to do a laundry and visit some hotels.


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